Random Notes (October 2017)

I’m late with this, the past week has been spent with friends of over 40 years standing & we have stopped counting. Along with the nourishment that comes from hanging with people who know each other so well it was refreshing to step away from the Matrix for some time (I don’t do smartphones & it’s rude to ask for someone else’s password). Returning to the Lincolnshire edgelands & to the e-world, a lot of stuff & even more nonsense, I resolve to keep my distance from everyone’s favourite waste of time. Yeah, that’ll work.

 

An F-book thread marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Love’s LP “Forever Changes”, a noteworthy landmark of our music, was hijacked by the naming of favoured “great” albums. Maybe 40 titles were checked off (I think some people carry their lists with them) & the link was that they were all made by white people. I mean what the actual Eff ! It’s OK, listen to & rate whatever you want to but if you really do think that “Searching For the Young Soul Rebels” by Dexys Midnight Runners is better than Sly & the Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” then please don’t say it out loud, make an appointment with an otolaryngologist & don’t come around here no more.

 

 

 

What a clip this is. A performance from the Dick Cavett Show prettied up & linked to the stereo recording of “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)”. Has any band looked so good & sounded so great ? It’s unlikely. “Thank You…” is one of a string of megahits from the group at the end of the 1960s. Sly, Sister Rose & Brother Freddie made it a family affair. Bassist Larry Graham. along with Bootsy Collins off of the J.B.’s, was taking the instrument from Soul to Funk while the brass section, Cynthia & Jerry, knew when to blaze like the Memphis boys & when to make the appropriate punctuation. Greg Errico’s drums completed a band that was greater than the sum of its impressive parts. Their intelligent positive songs found a massive audience. Sly & the Family Stone were deservedly a big deal at the time.

 

Related imageMoney, drugs, ego, paranoia, politics, the usual stuff, came with the success. Sly became known for not showing up at gigs, locking himself away in his studio. missing deadlines for an album the record company expected. When that record finally arrived, in November 1971, the bright psychedelic Soul had been ousted by a stoned, ominous, prophetic Funk. “Thank You….” had become “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa”, a fuzzy, even sluggish, righteous groove that could last an hour & not be too long. “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” is Sly’s masterpiece. This month I’ve been listening to a live broadcast of the Family Stone from Dutch radio in 1970. It’s raw, ragged, joyous & the funkiest 30 minutes it’s possible to have.

 

 

On the final day of October I finally got to see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. I couldn’t make his last two UK visits & I’ve had tickets for this tour since April. I don’t go to many big gigs nowadays & forward planning is not my thing but this was much anticipated & not to be missed. Jason’s last 3 records have been the most played new music round our house, his blend of Roots, Country & American Rock continues a tradition of names that are not to be used lightly (The Band, Neil Young, Springsteen…there I’ve done it!). On this tour his wife, Amanda Shires, was absent & perhaps a little texture & light was lost. What we did get was Southern Rock at its finest by an outstanding band who if  not at the top of their game then watch out !

 

Image result for jason isbell 400 unitThe set included 8 of the 10 tracks from “The Nashville Sound”, a record where Isbell has expanded his lyrical palette, mixing the political with the personal. These are strange, serious times. What can a poor boy do? I’ve spent more time with “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free” but “The Last of My Kind”, “Tupelo” & “White Man’s World” are certainly starting to hit those same spots. The showstoppers were a powerful, transformed “Cover Me Up” & his Drive-By Truckers classics “Decoration Day” & “Never Gonna Change”. The Birmingham Symphony Hall is as grand as it sounds, a beautiful room with perfect acoustics. It’s maybe not the best place for Rock & Roll but the staff were not too precious about their venue (I’m looking at you, the Barbican in that London) & I had a very, very good time.

 

Image result for tales from the tour busI’m up for anything that Mike Judge puts his name to on my telly or for a bigger screen. I’ve also spent too much time watching Rock documentaries, the good, the bad & the what’s the point of this ? “Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus” hits both these spots, I’m the target audience, at the front of the queue for each 30-minute animated episode. I knew some of these stories about legendary Country crazies. Jerry Lee Lewis’s announcement, having been warned about profanity, at his Grand Ole Opry debut that ” ladies and gentlemen: I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherfucker!” is well chronicled but it is recounted, like everything else with irreverence & affection. The correct people are interviewed, I found the views of Myra, Jerry Lee’s teenage bride to be particularly interesting.

 

Image result for tales from the tour bus johnny paycheckI knew little about Johnny Paycheck, the subject of the opening episode. Man, he was a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter, suitcases full of cash & cocaine, the gun in the dashboard glove compartment never far from his hand Johnny P was the worst thing around, “a hillbilly with a hit”. Judge’s “Silicon Valley” is the best of recent US sit-coms & “…Tour Bus” gets another thumbs up from me.

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Singing Sweet And Soulful (Dusty Springfield)

A double whammy here. A win-win combo of two things I will never get tired of, Dusty Springfield, the Queen of British Pop & the emotional Soul ballads written & produced by Bert Berns & Jerry Ragovoy. “It Was Easier to Hurt Her” was originally recorded in New York in March 1965 by Garnett Mimms. The song was picked up as the debut solo single for Wayne Fontana, a British Invasion hitmaker fronting the Mindbenders who never repeated that group’s international success. Later in the same year Dusty’s version was included on her 2nd UK LP “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” (US releases get a little complicated). This clip, from her BBC TV show in September 1967, matches Soul & elegant inspiration, that thing that Dusty did better than anyone & I love it.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield 1966Ms Springfield’s transition from the prim, pre-Beatle Pop-Folk of her group the Springfields to Beat Boom aristocrat was seamless. Her continuing relationship with producer Johnny Franz & orchestra director Ivor Raymonde at Phillips records kept the hits coming. Whether it was the pure Pop of  “I Only Want to be With You” & “Stay Awhile”, the sophisticated interpretations of Bacharach & David (“Wishin’ & Hopin'” & “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”) or the big ballads, a little syrupy & overwrought for my taste but very popular, there was a string of UK Top 20 entries beginning in 1963. If this wasn’t enough Dusty was an early adopter & supporter of Soul music. There’s a Holland-Dozier-Holland track on her first LP, another on an early EP (ask your grandma). She was always in our telly in the Sixties & never looked happier than when duetting with Martha Reeves (“Wishin’ & Hopin'”) on the “Ready Steady Go” showcase which introduced Tamla Motown to a prime time TV audience.

 

A hook up with Atlantic Records seemed to be a natural move. Changes in the music scene meant that Dusty was becoming a cabaret act, gigging in working men’s clubs. A re-invigoration was needed & her new heavyweight producers took her to American Sound Studios to make the classic “Dusty In Memphis” LP. “Son of a Preacher Man”, you know it, it’s in “Pulp Fiction”, was an international success but the album was not the sure-fire breakout smash it deserved to be. It is her masterpiece, makes it on to the all-time lists but Dusty continued to make some blue-eyed, blonde-wigged Soul that didn’t get the same exposure.

 

 

 

Related imageThe follow up 1970 LP wasn’t, but could have been, called Dusty In Philadelphia. “A Brand New Me” (US title), “From Dusty With Love” in the UK (this fractured marketing didn’t really help) was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, a team who were honing their own hit sound which would soon flood the charts on their Philadelphia International label. G&H had a terrific 4 album Pop-Soul streak with “The Ice Man” Jerry Butler. The title track & “Lost” were both taken from that catalogue & Dusty’s record has the same uptown smooth quality. If anything her assured, husky voice is more suited to these songs than to swampy Memphis Soul. “A Brand New Me” was a hit 45 but album sales disappointed both artist & label. It’s a very classy record, a forewarning that Sigma would become a new Hit Factory.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield magazine coverAnother year another producer for Dusty. This time around she was in New York with Jeff Barry, a stalwart of American Pop through the Sixties. Barry, with his wife Ellie Greenwich & producer Phil Spector pretty much defined the Girl Group sound. “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be My Baby”, Baby I Love You”, “Then He Kissed Me”, It’s a list & an impressive one so let’s add “River Deep Mountain High” & hits for the Dixie Cups & the Shangri-Las. Later he produced the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” then wrote & produced “Sugar Sugar” for the Archies. “Faithful” was recorded in the first half of of 1971. Dusty, never the most confident person, was unhappy in both her private & professional situations. The 2 lead singles from the LP sold poorly & Dusty chose to end her contract with Atlantic. The album was shelved, the tapes were thought to have been destroyed in a fire before Barry he still had the mixes. “Faithful” was finally released in 2015 & that’s a great pity because, don’t you just know it, it’s a damn fine record.

 

“Faithful” does steer Dusty back towards the middle of the road, she was probably just as comfortable there, singing the standards of the day (“You’ve Got A Friend”, “Make It With You”) than she was accentuating the Soul Sensation angle. Of course there are still uptempo tracks like the single “Haunted” but the album has a little more variety, brings back the drama & is beautifully arranged & played. “Faithful” would have completed Dusty’s trilogy of Atlantic LPs, it seems crazy that we never got to hear it at the time.

 

 

In 1968 Bert Berns was dead & Jerry Ragovoy was making big plans to put his royalties towards ownership of the means of production with his own studio. Berns had provided Atlantic with one of their first big Soul hits, “Cry To Me” by Solomon Burke, Ragovoy, a master of emotion & drama, did great work with female vocalists like Erma Franklin & Lorraine Ellison. Imagine if Dusty could have worked with those 2 New York mavericks. There’s a record I would liked to have heard. Ah well, let’s finish with one of the clips from “Dusty In Germany” a TV show shot in 1969 just after the release of “…In Memphis”. Dusty is back to performing her repertoire in a confusing clutter of faux-psychedelic effects. The song is her cover of the Sand Pebbles’ rambunctious “Love Power”. Dusty Springfield looks great, moves better than the gyrating dancers &, as always, delivers the goods. The best of the British girl singers.

Random Notes (September 2017)

OK, despite the efforts of two world leaders, men who both seem to be inadequately qualified for their jobs, Earth has made it to the end of September 2017. It’s been a month when my football team have remained undefeated, winning their last 3 games in fine style. At a time when, after 5 miserable seasons, we finally have a coach who has some idea of what he is doing & a team who at least appear to care what happens when Saturday comes. It would be just Aston Villa’s luck to have our mini-revival  abruptly ended by a bloody nuclear holocaust. Here’s some other good stuff from the past 4 weeks.

 

 

Image result for neil young 1976In July 1976 Neil Young sent a telegram to his co-star in the Stills-Young Band notifying Stephen that he would not be completing their tour in support of the “Long May You Run” LP. A 1974 stadium tour by their group, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, an avalanche of hype, drugs & ego had strained relationships to breaking point & now he was walking away from a musical partnership that had lasted a decade. Neil had shown the same cussed restlessness when solo LPs “After the Goldrush” & “Harvest” had been very successful in the singer-songwriter/Soft Rock troubadour boom of the early 1970s. His subsequent recordings, some of the most imaginative & challenging of his long & varied career, failed to reach that audience which hoped for more songs like “Heart of Gold” (you know that one). Always prolific, Neil could still do that stuff as well as anyone. On one night in August 1976 he took his acoustic guitar into a Malibu studio & recorded 10 new songs. It is only now that we finally get to hear the results of that night.

 

Listening to “Hitchhiker” is a delight. 8 of the 10 songs made it on to his records but this doesn’t sound like a bunch of demos & it’s not the nostalgia of hearing old songs. The lack of other instrumentation matched to Neil’s individual shaky delivery, high & human, sounds like an LP that was ready to go. I’m by no means a Neil Young obsessive & I know what I like. Albums like “Hawks & Doves” & “Greendale” still get a regular airing round here while others remain at the back of the stack. The high quality of some of his archival releases, the monumental Crazy Horse set at the Fillmore East in 1970 & this stoned snapshot of his mid-Seventies creativity are essential documents of one of US Rock’s great artists.

 

 

Image result for courtney barnett kurt vileWell, this will not wait. There’s a new Kurt & Courtney in town when on October 13th Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile release their LP “Lotta Sea Lice”. The 2 pre-release tracks, the shimmering “Over Everything” & the sweet “Continental Breakfast” confirm that the album will be one to listen out for. Aussie Courtney stormed it with her debut LP “Sometimes I Sit & Think & Sometimes I Just Sit”refreshingly honest & sharply amusing lyrics backed by punchy Indie Guitar Rock. “Sometimes…” deservedly found an audience & Courtney ended up with a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammys. As much a shock to us that the best music should be acknowledged as I’m sure it was to her.

 

I don’t know much about Kurt Vile’s solo work or with his band The War On Drugs. If he’s good enough for Courtney, these 2 tracks display a natural compatibility, then he’s good enough for further investigation. So much music so little time. September can’t be done & dusted without marking the loss of  Walter Becker & Grant Hart, both so essential to the outstanding music made by their respective groups Steely Dan & Husker Du.

 

Image result for wolf mother movieObviously the movie of the month was “Wolf Mother”, writer/director Erik Peter Carlson’s first film since his ambitious 2014 indie epic “The Toy Soldiers” & another confident piece of film-making. The film is not at all helped by its trailer, Carlson has got it going on & capably pushes the limits of taste further than say Linklater or P T Anderson who have covered similar ground with bigger budgets. Look, I have recommended violent, twisted, amoral tales of low-life losers before & some people have not been too impressed with my choice. So “Wolf Mother”, you didn’t hear about it from me right !

 

 

Related imagePlaying over the opening credits of David Simon’s new TV series “The Deuce” is Curtis Mayfield’s incendiary “If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go”. Set on the mean streets around New York’s Times Square in the early 1970s these wise guys, superfly sporting men & their ladies will need more than a great Funk soundtrack to rival all those classic movies with a similar urban setting. Simon has hit the spot before, “The Wire” & “Generation Kill” remain particular favourites. His collaborator George Pelecanos is responsible for some of the best recent US crime fiction. I’ve only seen the pilot, James Franco (not a big favourite, too many Judd Apatow films) plays 2 brothers & the very lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal is er…very lovely. I saw enough of interest to ensure that I will be hanging around for the rest of the series (series 2 is already confirmed) & trusting that the 2 creators will introduce a wider social context for the excellent cast to hang their rather fetching street threads & “everything is everything” patter on.

99 Pounds Of Soul (Ann Peebles)

If you ever attended the First Baptist Church in St Louis in the 1950’s & 60’s I’m sure that you were in for a treat. Minister of music Perry Peebles directed the Peebles Choir, founded by his father & which, over the years, included his wife Eula, their 11 children & many of the extended Peebles family. The seventh of the 11 siblings, Ann, was blessed with an outstanding voice. She was a natural performer on the Gospel circuit &, born in 1947, was of a generation where the transfer to secular Soul was easier than it had been for those 10 years older than her.

 

 

Image result for ann peebles willie mitchellAnn Peebles sang with bands in St Louis clubs before, on a trip to Memphis, impressing Gene “Bowlegs” Miller with her take on the Jimmy Hughes ballad “Steal Away, a 1964 hit from FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. “Bowlegs” (great name) referred her to Willie Mitchell, head of A&R at Hi Records, after a run through of the same song Ann found herself with a recording contract before she was 21 years old. Hi was known for its instrumental hits. Trumpeter/band leader/producer Mitchell had his own very groovy success in 1968 with the King Curtis tune “Soul Serenade“. Now Willie was looking to expand the label’s roster, matching new vocal talent to his ideas about how Soul went. As it says in the small print in the ad (trust me it’s there) for Ann’s 1971 45 “Somebody’s On Your Case” “Produced by Willie Mitchell & it’s pure Memphis”.

 

There was no instant success for Peebles. The label took time to school Ann in recording & promotion. Her debut LP “This Is…” (1969) was heavy on cover versions of recent hits. Two fine singles in 1970 made an impression but there was little new material & the “Part Time Love” LP (1971) included 6 tracks from that first record. “Straight From the Heart” was released in the same year &, as can be heard from “Slipped, Tripped & Fell in Love” & “99 Pounds”, she was finding her own strong, individual, mature style. There were others at Mitchell’s Royal Studios who were hitting the spot too.

 

 

“99 Pounds” was written for & about Ann by Don Bryant, a staff member at Hi assigned as her mentor. The pair did not instantly bond. Ann thought that she knew how to sing & Don thought that his own recordings were being neglected. This 3rd LP included 3 songs written by the singer (2 co-written with Bryant). In 1973 they co-operated on the song that defines Ann Peebles career. A year later the couple were married.

 

Image result for ann peeblesAt this time the walls of Hi Records’ office was filling up with gold discs as Al Green, another Mitchell discovery, became the new Soul sensation. The house band, the Hodges brothers, Charles (organ), Leroy (bass) & Teenie (guitar) with drummer Howard Grimes. augmented by the Memphis Horns (over from Stax) found a warm, melodic, still funky groove that became the new hit sound. These musicians are all over every Ann Peebles record, driving the song along, complementing her assertive lyrics. The Hi Rhythm Section are an instantly recognisable unit & Man, they’re good !

 

 

“I Can’t Stand the Rain”, we all know that one, bringing back sweet memories. A Peebles/Bryant composition with assistance from local DJ Bernie Miller it is the title track of a monumental LP, an update on the Southern Country Soul of the late 1960’s, a Hi-point of that label’s fine discography. In 1974 the record was not a major hit, the single just making the US Top 40, the LP #155. It was though recognised as an enduring piece of resistance. In 1978 a German disco version hit the US Top 20 & the UK Top 10, Tina Turner included a version on “Private Dancer” a 20 million selling album & our man Lowell George, off of Little Feat, made a good fist of it on his one solo LP.

 

Image result for ann peeblesThere are 7 Ann Peebles LPs from this period & there’s some high quality moments. “Beware” is from “Tellin’ It” (1975), take a look at that clip, a singer in her prime & how was that not a hit ? Willie Mitchell thought that Ann didn’t fulfill her potential, that she was not committed to becoming a star. I’m sure that as label boss he wanted her to be the female Al Green. The public’s tastes in African-American music were changing, they wanted to dance themselves dizzy. Ann was never as lyrically brazen as Millie Jackson, not as Disco as Donna Summer. There are some great Pop-Soul tracks (“A Love Vibration”, “Dr Love Power”) but she just did that thing she did & never was able to make the connection that transferred into major sales.

 

 

Ann took a break to raise her son in 1978. 10 years later she returned, on Willie Mitchell’s new label, but the electro-Soul sound didn’t really compare with her previous work. In 1989 the Waylo Soul Revue came to Europe. “A Memphis Soul Night” featuring Ann, Otis Clay & others confirms that there was a pretty good gig that I missed. She continued to perform & there are more records. Her reputation endured & her music was sampled by many Hip Hop artists. There’s a version of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” on the Joe Henry project “I Believe In My Soul” (2005) that absolutely does the trick.

 

Ann Peebles didn’t enter the pantheon of female Soul singers like Aretha, Diana & Gladys. She came around a little later than those legends & her brand of Southern Soul was no longer in the 1970’s mainstream. There’s more to her music than “I Can’t Stand the Rain” & “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. The records she made for Hi have all been re-released & if you are tempted by one of the many compilations then make sure it’s a double one because her “Best of” will not fit on the one LP or CD.

 

 

No Static At All

I must have been good in 1977. At Christmas Santa brought two brand new copies of “Aja” by Steely Dan & some spiffy new headphones. That was me sorted until New Year. The group, now a duo, had released an album a year since 1972, it would be 3 more years before the next collection. “Aja” was good enough to get us through that long wait, still is. Not sure what happened to the cans.

 

 

 

Image result for walter beckerWalter Becker, who died this weekend, has been part of my musical landscape for 45 years now. From the compendium of finely crafted pop songs on the debut “Can’t Buy A Thrill” through to the my kind of Jazz Lounge of “Gaucho” any album that I hook up to is better than most everything else I hear. I have grown up with their music & their developing sophistication has helped me to grow up. Steely Dan’s literate, considered, often acerbic & cynical lyrics of the high life & the lowlife described a world that I was perhaps a little too familiar with. There are so many fine lines but an intro like “Five names that I can hardly stand to hear. Including yours and mine & one more chimp who isn’t here” makes “Bad Sneakers” a desert island favourite.

 

Image result for walter beckerThis is not an obituary, anyone who once heard “Do It Again” or “Reelin’ In The Years” seems to have had their say this week. All I want to say is that Walter Becker’s memory will be eternal & Walter, thank you for the tracks of whack.

 

Random Notes (August 2017)

OK, Summer break’s over… back on your head ( the punchline to a very old joke). Recently the going got weird so, as any fool knows, the weird turn Pro. As Life took a turn written by a Russian existentialist the blog took a back seat. Touting my favourite music seemed to be an inappropriate gewgaw but, y’know, I like doing it & I’ve certainly not stopped listening. Right, as Fyodor Dostoevsky used to say, “What the fuck”…Is this thing on ?

 

 

Single of the month is this glorious racket from Cleveland’s finest Pere Ubu. It’s been quite some time since I saw singer David Thomas & his crew perform music from the future at the Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Those first two records from 1978, “The Modern Dance” & “Dub Housing”, angular, challenging post-Punk collections were so outstanding (& still sound great) that any music the group has released since merits consideration. Breaks have been taken, the line up has changed while David Thomas abides. In 1989 “Waiting For Mary” was one of the songs of that year, showing that the avant-garage experimentation combined with the ability to rock was a fine blend.

 

Image result for pere ubu monkey bizness“Monkey Bizness” is a taste of something fine from the upcoming LP “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo”. The video features the classic 1990s “Funhouse” pinball machine, a little complicated for my old-school arcade taste but still a quality table. I’ll be looking forward to hearing the rest of the record, Ubu’s first since “Carnival of Souls” (2014), in September. A young person walked in while I was enjoying this track at high volume & wondered what the heck was going on…that’s good right ?

 

This month, like most everyone I know, I handed over some of my hard-earned to the local multiplex & they let me see “Dunkirk”. Christopher Nolan has always been worth the money since the low budget “Following” (1998) & the startling “Memento” (2000). He makes blockbusters now but his version of a previous British exit from continental Europe (a retreat which like most of our defeats has been portrayed as heroic) was never going to be a Speilbergian war epic. We got a sparse, impressionistic cinematic experience, emotionally anchored by a restrained performance by Mark Rylance as the middle-aged captain of a small rescue boat, which I found immersive & enjoyable.

 

 

Image result for goon last of the enforcersI was not going to miss the return to the screen  of Doug “The Thug” Glatt the pugilistic protagonist of “Goon” (2011). Any Ice Hockey (as we Europeans call it, to distinguish it from an entirely different sport played on grass) movie will be compared to “Slapshot” the 1977 comedy/drama directed by George Roy Hill & starring Paul Newman, one from the top shelf of sport films. Glatt (Sean William Scott) is no Reggie Dunlop. His not-too-bright amiability, his talent to hit somebody/anybody giving him somewhere he belonged, made for an endearing & enjoyable story.

 

This time around writer Jay Baruchel directs, the humour is still coarse, the exposition broad. In “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” Doug is now married to Eva (the lovely Alison Pill), too punched out to play with his oddball teammates on the Halifax Highlanders, replaced by Anders Cain (Goldie & Kurt’s boy Wyatt Russell who seems to have been busy since that gaming episode of “Black Mirror”). He turns to old rival Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, the great Ray Donovan, excellent as another washed-up brawler in the capable biopic “Chuck”) for help. The violence is gratuitous, the story often sentimental but it was good to spend time in Doug’s company & to see how he is getting on. I’ve seen the film described as “hockey-flavoured comfort food” & sometimes that’s just the refreshment you need of an evening.

 

 

 

Image result for syreeta albumOf course it’s never all new stuff round here & the LP I have mainly been listening to this month is a classic from 1972. Syreeta Wright married Stevie Wonder in 1970. Together they wrote the songs for “Where I’m Coming From” (1971) Stevie’s first step towards independence from Motown, the beginning of a decade of musical brilliance. The marriage lasted just 18 months but they worked together on “Syreeta” (1972) her debut LP. The hook up with Tonto’s Expanding Headband (Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil) brought new synthesizer textures to the music & they are around for this record. Some of the tracks are a little sweet, it’s not Deep Soul & it’s not Detroit, more a modern Soul similar to Minnie Riperton’s “Perfect Angel” (1974) Related imageanother LP that Stevie & his crew worked on. The charming opening track “I Love Everything About You” sets the standard while the closer,the scorching Funk throb of “To Know You is to Love You”, is good enough to stand with the many great tracks created by Wonder. The pair collaborated on a more commercial follow up which made a bigger impression but, this month at least, I’m going with “Syreeta”.

One Great Song Three Great Records (Dedicated To The One I Love)

Image result for the mamas and the papas dedicatedThe first time I heard “Dedicated to the One I Love” was in February 1967 when the Mamas & the Papas released the song as a single. The year since the arrival of their debut LP “If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears” had been golden for the four part harmony group. Apparently John and Mitchy were getting kind of itchy just to leave the folk music behind. With Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott the Phillips’s sang like a band of angels. “California Dreaming” & “Monday Monday”, instant classics, blended  West Coast sunshine with grown up songs. The four voices were such a natural fit they could have recorded excerpts from the phone book & it would have sounded fine.

 

“Dedicated to the One I Love” was the group’s fifth Top 10 hit in 2 years. The Mamas & the Papas epitomised Los Angeles bohemian chic & the musicians of Laurel Canyon were displacing the movie stars of Hollywood as the city’s cool set. I’m not going to be able to leave this without declaring that in 1967 Michelle Phillips, “Dedicated…” being her finest recording, was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world. You don’t believe me ? Then watch this…

 

 

Related image“Dedicated to the One I Love” & the Mamas & the Papas were such a perfect fit I assumed that John Phillips had written this one too. This was not the case, the song had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1961.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, the first big one of many for the songwriting team Goffin & King was one of theirs. “Soldier Boy” that was another one. The 4 Jersey Girls pioneered the girl-group sound, a big part of 60s American Pop. In 1966 I loved the Crystals, Ronettes, Shangri-Las & the graduates of the Motown charm school. The Shirelles seemed a little over by then, I had never heard their version of “Dedicated…”. What did I know ? Back then I had never even heard of the 5 Royales.

 

 

Image result for the 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveNow that’s how it originally went. In the days before Rock & Roll the 5 Royales were a pretty big deal. The group, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took up permanent residence in the R&B Top 10 between 1952-54. At Apollo Records in New York they were skilled at taking Gospel groups & steering them towards Doo-Wop. The Selah Jubilee Singers became the Larks & the Royal Sons Quintet, the 5 Royales. These early hits featured the strong lead vocal of Johnny Tanner & a tenor sax break. Band member Lowman Pauling had a facility for writing fine songs & he was soon to prove that he had another 6 strings to his bow.

 

Image result for lowman paulingThe group’s sound was updated when the saxophone was joined by Lowman’s guitar. His stinging, economical, innovative style marked the 5 Royales out from the crowd. Young guitarists like Steve Cropper, later to be such a presence at Stax, & John Fogarty, off of Credence Clearwater Revival, certainly listened & imitated. Lowman continued to provide great material. In 1957 there was another burst of success with songs that were not only popular but influential. “Think” was recorded by James Brown, “Tell the Truth” by Ray Charles. For “Dedicated to the One I Love”, co-written by Pauling & producer Ralph Bass, Johnny Tanner’s younger brother Eugene stepped up to add the sweetness that the song needed & made it such a popular, enduring classic. The swagger from Lowman Pauling’s guitar is what makes it outstanding. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is not a concept that much concerns me but when the 5 Royales were ushered through the door in 2015 I was happy to see them recognised.

 

 

 

In 1968 Stax Records of Memphis found themselves at the wrong end of a deal with Atlantic. In September 1969, to counter the loss of a stellar back catalogue, the label released 27 new LPs. One of them, “Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes sold 3 million copies, inspired a whole lot of Orchestral Soul & kept Stax in the record-making game. Producer Jo Bridges set up the subsidiary We Produce label & brought along the Temprees, a trio who had been friends from high school in Memphis.

 

Image result for the tempreesThere are 3 Temprees albums, all large helpings of sweet, symphonic Soul. In 1972 it was the vocal groups up in Philadelphia, the Gamble & Huff stable, O’Jays, Bluenotes, the Stylistics who were getting the hits. Then there was the Chi-Lites & always the Temptations. The lead falsetto vocals of Jabbo Phillips stand comparison with Russell Thompkins of the Stylistics but the Temprees never achieved similar success. Their unhurried take on “Dedicated…” is a delight, a great vocal supported by Stax’ house orchestra, Isaac Hayes’ back-up, the Movement. Never fails to hit the spot this one…”Ooh Baby !”.

 

Image result for 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveSo here’s 3 versions of a great love song from 3 different decades each one a fine example of a style current at the time. Then there’s the Shirelles US Top 10 record, Bitty McLean’s reggaefied UK hit, the title track of a Linda Ronstadt LP, a live tribute by Laura Nyro, a champion of New York R&B.  Lowman Pauling died in 1973, he’s buried in Winston-Salem next to his brother Clarence Paul, mentor of Stevie Wonder, co-writer of “Fingertips”, “Until You Come Back to Me”, “Hitch Hike” & many others. Man, that’s a talented family. The man whose name is on these & many other versions saw very little money from his composition. At the time of his death he was working as a night watchman at a New York church. Lowman now has a reputation as a star guitarist (try “The Slummer the Slum”, an early use of feedback) but something is not right there.

Random Notes (June 2017)

Oof ! At the start of June our government was telling us that the Leader of the Opposition would take us back to the 1970’s & was an IRA sympathiser. A new generation of voters, raised on & unconvinced by Austerity, replied “When?” & “Who?” then exercised their democratic right in favour of a politician they perceived as principled & fighting their corner. Jeremy Corbyn may not be Prime Minister but the Tories, anticipating plain sailing to an increased majority, are a sinking ship, their “strong & stable” banner in tatters. My own cynicism ( a trait I thought to be an attractive one) was refreshingly challenged by the optimistic younglings of my company. This new passion found a focus when terrorist attacks led to criticism of cuts to emergency services & a tragic fire in London exposed policies which favoured profit over respect for the rights of others to fatal effect.

 

I’m no Corbyn cultist though there is much to admire about his successful acampaign in the face of the vilification from the media. I would prefer a united Labour Party confident enough to articulate & endorse the concerns of their support rather than wait for a hopeless, rudderless, all-but minority government to run aground as they blindly attempt to negotiate the choppy waters of our exit from the EU. Whatever the outcome, something has changed.

 

That’s enough politics & certainly too many maritime metaphors. Let’s put some sounds on…

 

 

My musical month was always set to be dominated by “The Nashville Sound” the new much-anticipated (well, by me) new LP from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It seems that I’m not the only one & it’s selling more copies than the previous 2 award winning collections “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free”. Whether Jason is rocking out with the band or getting reflective with his acoustic guitar, his wife Amanda on fiddle & harmonies, his mature, assured songs hit the spot more accurately than anyone else around at the moment. That heart-wrenching line “I’m just lucky to have the work” from the title track of “Something…” is still tearing me up now here’s another 10 tracks to have around the house & to get to know.

 

Image result for the nashville sound jason isbellThis time around Isbell is stretching himself lyrically. He & his protagonists, mainly Southern American men, are living in Trump’s America, something needs to be said about the frustration & anger that brings. “Hope the High Road” & “White Man’s World” are not political with a capital P, his character studies are accurate & sympathetic. Any false steps, there is sometimes a slight lyrical clumsiness, is offset by great contributions from all the musicians involved. Hey I’m being picky here. The last 2 records have been very good company, taking their  time to reveal their full depth & qualities. “Cumberland Gap”, “If We Were Vampires” & “Tupelo” are  are already welcome guests. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the rest of “The Nashville Sound”.

 

 

I’ve been an admirer of Steve van Zandt since he was consiglieri to Bruce & the E Street Band before doing the same job for the Soprano family. Hell, I even hung around “Lilyhammer” long after it had jumped the reindeer. Now his immaculately curated Underground Garage (every show archived somewhere around here) is my Interweb radio show of choice. Little Steven’s Rock & Roll sensibility & taste sit very well with me & it only took a listen to a couple of tracks off of his new LP “Soulfire” & I was on it (new fave phrase, courtesy of the hilarious Count Arthur Strong) like a German Shepherd on chicken !

 

Image result for steve van zandt james gando;fini“Soulfire” is infused with Steve’s abiding belief in music’s redemptive quality. Older songs, 2 that he gave to Southside Johnny, are spiritedly resuscitated. “Ride the Night Away” reclaims that great opening riff to “I Found Love” a co-write for Lone Justice. Strong new songs cover similar ground, there are 2 covers, a Blues from Etta James & a spectacular version of James Brown’s “Down & Out In New York City” (from the movie “Black Caesar”). The bold, brassy Spectoresque Wall of Sound, employed by Steve & Springsteen back then, is made loud & clear by master engineer Bob Clearmountain & it’s so good to hear the Persuasions, a classic vocal group, back on record. No new ground is broken on “Soulfire”, it’s traditional American Rock done well by one of the guys who set the standard & it’s glorious.

 

 

Image result for kwyet kinksOK, it’s not all new music round our end, it never is. This month it’s been the Kinks that have made it to to the front of the stack & stayed there. Back when the money from my paper round didn’t stretch to expensive 12″ vinyl discs record companies offered EPs, Extended Plays, 4 tracks for less than double the price of a 2 track 45. Of course the Beatles led the way with  “Twist & Shout” (1963) & “Long Tall Sally” (1964), a great collection of previously unreleased recordings. Both sold more than many hit singles. The Stones matched these with “Five By Five” (1964), new cuts from sessions at Chess studios, & “Got Live if You Want It ” (1965). EPs were mainly recycled material, a chance to buy a couple of singles you had missed. The Kinks were one group who had songs that never made the A-side but were more than album filler.

 

Image result for well respected man kinks“Kwyet Kinks” came around in September 1965, a year when the group had 5 Top 20 hits. Their early energy had converted R&B influences into aggressive, punk Rock & Ray Davies, still  just 21 years old, was developing a more introspective songwriting style. Both Summer hits “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” combined a wistful lyric with a distinctive, inventive guitar sound. The oh so good, oh so fine “Well Respected Man”, a first excursion into sly social commentary, was picked from the EP by offshore pirate radios & played to an audience of over 10 million as often as any new hit. The Kinks’ record label & management doubted the group’s new direction but their fans were already on it. “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along” was the first song to be solely credited to the younger Davies, guitarist Dave. It would be a couple of years before Dave made his own hit solo records but the talent is there to see on this one. The other 2 tracks “Don’t You Fret” & “Such A Shame” were not saved for “The Kink Kontroversy”, their 3rd LP.  In 1965 the Davies brothers, Pete Quaife (bass), Mick Avory (drums) & their producer Shel Talmy were mining a very productive seam.

 

Image result for dedicated kinks epThe following year “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, a sharp lampoon of Carnabetian Swinging London, was the first in a series of acutely observed, distinctively British, classic Kinks hits. Pye, never slow to capitalise on their back catalogue, released the “Dedicated Kinks” EP, the title hit, “Set Me Free”, “See My Friends” & the raucous, rocking “Till the End of the Day”. Now that sounded like value for my hard-earned to me. A good reason for a Saturday, the one day I was holding folding, visit to the local record shop.

That Would Be Ecstasy You And Me Endlessly (The Young Rascals)

Back in the mid-1980s my friend Mitchell’s new job came with a van which he got to keep when he wasn’t punching the clock. As a non-driver I really didn’t mind public transport (OK, the cold, wasted hours at bus stops could be irksome) but looking at the world’s greatest city through a windshield, cruising with your best buddy & the correct sounds playing made life a little better. Our music of choice was a cassette of the soundtrack of “The Big Chill” (1983) Lawrence Kasdan’s poignant Baby Boomer ensemble drama. Not all of the classic tracks from the 1960s used in the movie made it on to the album, it was mostly Motown & Atlantic Soul. One track, probably the one we knew the least, caught the moment, raised our energy, went straight to rewind & repeat.

 

 

“Good Lovin'”, a 2 minutes 28 seconds rush was the 2nd single to be released by Atlantic’s blue-eyed Soul boys the Young Rascals. Originally recorded by Lemme B Snell, the Rascals had probably come across the version by the Olympics. Their first eponymous LP, a recreation of their exciting live shows at the Barge, Long Island, which first attracted the label, was packed with cover versions, just one of their own compositions. Under the tutelage of future label Veep Arif Mardin & expert engineer Tom Dowd the group produced themselves. The songs written by organist Felix Cavaliere & singer Eddie Brigati  didn’t match the #1 success of “Good Lovin'” but were good, getting better & kept them in the frame as one of the most popular groups around.

 

Image result for young rascalsThe Rascals became “Young” to avoid legal dealings with an established variety act. Onstage their knickerbockers & Peter Pan collars gave them an overgrown schoolboy look. They were good-looking men & over here we saw them as US teen idols who, like Paul Revere & the Raiders, relied a little too much on a visual gimmick. In the mid-Sixties the UK’s Pop Art was our biggest export. We were busy in Carnaby St, had our own take on R&B, our own new young sensations coming up. The Young Rascals were closer to the dynamic Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. We pretty much ignored that great group too.

 

 

Image result for young rascals traffic 1967 uk tourIt was “Groovin'” (1967), you know it, carefree, the feelgood hit of the Summer of Love, a better anthem  than Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco, which finally registered in the UK. They came over to tour with Traffic & Vanilla Fudge (who, I think, blew the tour out after just one date) & that sounds like a good night. The “Groovin'” LP was packed with hit singles. “A Girl Like You” was a Rascals’ rhythm rocker, “How Can I Be Sure”, with Eddie on lead vocal, was a baroque waltzing delight. It sure sounded like a hit to me (it was in the US) & I bought the 45, on the red Atlantic label, but not many other Brits did. It sounded like a hit again when Dusty Springfield released a version that missed out. In 1972 David Cassidy did take the song to the #1 spot but I wasn’t really listening.

 

The group had ditched the school uniforms & the cover of the “Once Upon A Dream” LP (1968) confirmed that the Rascals were no longer “Young”. “Sergeant Pepper’s…” had set a new standard for Pop music & classically trained Felix Cavaliere was up for the challenge. With its sound effects, spoken word,. whistles, bells & sitars, the LP certainly embraced the new spirit of inventiveness & imagination. The one hit 45 “It’s Wonderful” is just that. At times the simple, soulful melodicism of the group loses out to orchestration & arrangement but “Once Upon  Dream” is a very interesting record which doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves when American music of the time is remembered. Whether the world & their audience were ready for the Psychedelic Rascals was another matter. Later in the year “Time Peace”, a greatest hits collection, reached #1 in the album charts. Perhaps people, preferring those optimistic, energetic, well-made tunes, still regarded the Rascals as a great singles band. They could still do them.

 

 

In the late 1960s music was changing & so was America. The Rascals, New Jersey boys raised on R&B, affected by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy & Martin Luther King, insisted on playing on integrated bills before non-segregated audiences. The group spent a little more time on their next LP. Previously they had pretty much recorded & released everything they had written. “People Got To Be Free”, a taster for “Freedom Suite”, was another irresistible anthem which gave the Rascals their third #1 US hit. “Freedom Suite”, like many double albums, would have made a great single LP. It’s been remiss of me not check for Dino Danelli. The space offered by playing in a 3-piece band showed Dino to be a great Rock drummer but a 13 minute drum solo, acceptable from Ginger Baker of Atlantic’s new Rock act Cream, was a little indulgent. The 15 minute long track taking up the whole of Side 4 was a bit much too.

 

Image result for young rascalsBy 1970 Atlantic had signed Led Zeppelin & Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Rascals were no longer their headline, hit-making act. There were 2 more LPs on Atlantic, more songs solely written by Cavaliere, less promotion reflected by less success. There’s fine music across both records but Eddie Brigati left during the recording of “Search & Nearness” (1971) then guitarist Gene Cornish followed soon after. The Rascals who released “Peaceful World”, their first LP for Columbia, just 2 months later were Felix, Dino & two new members. Again, despite the quality of the music, Jazz Improvisation Rascals failed to find a sizeable audience.

 

 

Image result for young rascals posterThe Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Steve Van Zandt off of the E Street Band & the Sopranos. His endorsement & affection for fellow Jersey Boys inspired a concert/theatrical combo, the first full reunion for 40 years, which was warmly received. The Rascals’ love of Rhythm & Blues got them started  &  the energy & enthusiasm they injected into their version of it was unmatched (see above). They changed with the times & made LPs that will reward investigation if you’re not already on them. Back when we were young & they were “Young” their hopeful, optimistic even innocent music caught the moment as well as just about anyone around.

New Music From Derry (Summer 2017)

It is with great pleasure that I am able to include this clip on loosehandlebars, it’s been a while coming & it is certainly worth the wait. We have championed the Gatefolds since their first live gig in March 2013. Not only because my friend Joe Brown is the bass player but also because, in the fine tradition of guitar bands out of Derry, Northern Ireland, they made a most acceptable racket. A major highlight of a memory-packed first night in Derry was seeing the band play live. I’m now happy to call all 4 Gatefolds friends, it’s been a pleasure to follow their progress through the videos made by Derry documentarist Jim Cunningham & the receipt of care parcels containing new recordings. Now we have the first professionally shot & edited filming of the band in action & it’s very good indeed.

 

Image result for the gatefolds derry

Photo:Mickey Rooney

THE GATEFOLDS – DISAPPEARING ACT

 

Image result for the gatefolds derryAt the end of April I made the 300 mile journey from my home to the Western edge of Europe to experience my second Gatefolds gig. The guys, a proper Garage band, worked hard in drummer Sean’s garage before returning to playing out & it showed. The guitar interplay of Jason & Fergal flows & surges at all the right times, the rhythm section, Joe & Sean, bring it in subtly & bring it home powerfully. It’s the unity, the 4 of them knowing how the Gatefolds should sound, that is the most impressive. I look forward to hearing studio versions of the new songs.

Over at BBC Radio Foyle presenter Stephen McCauley’s “Electric Mainline” show champions independent music & the local scene. He invited the Gatefolds along to play 2 of their tracks & “Disappearing Act” was caught for posterity. My trip to Donegal was totally worth it (I got a tune dedicated to me, thanks guys). Click on the link & you’ll get a taste of the rocking good stuff.

 

 

 

The best way to get the lowdown on a new young band is to ask a real young person. Keeping it in the family Emmet Brown, son of Joe kindly accepted our invitation to join the ‘handlebars’ karass. Emmet is the Antichrist.  (“What ?”…Really ?”…OH !) Strike that, Emmet is an anarchist…phew !

 

Image result for touts derry band“The word ‘touts’ may have a significantly different meaning in the north than it does most places. Defined as ““someone who betrays a confidence. To squeal, to tell tales, to inform the police of illegal activities”. With a name like that they’re already off to a brave start. With their debut EP “Sickening & Deplorable” its not hard to see where their influences lay. Channeling the power of legends such as the Clash while having the speed of American punks such as early Descendents.
I saw them playing in The Camden Assembly (Formerly the Barfly) in April. I was instantly blown away by their intensity and power. Guitarist and Vocalist Matthew would try to engage with the audience between songs but no one could make out his thick Derry accent. I found this hilarious as I looked around the room at confused faces.
“Saturday Night Scumbag” from their debut EP has to be one of the most fierce and explosive songs to come out of Derry and is exactly what the youth of our city needs. It’s great to see so many young music fans going to gigs and starting bands in Derry. It’s about time!”

 

 

Image result for paddy nash and the happy enchiladasI hope that Paddy Nash doesn’t mind me describing him as a stalwart of the Derry music scene as he’s a big man & I’m in bad shape. Way back at the end of the 20th century his group The Whole Tribe Sings made a single “Happy” which was used in a beer commercial, got them gigs in the US & it could have been, even should have been. After a long break Paddy returned with the Happy Enchiladas as his backing band & there are 6 albums of their sparky, Rock-Folk around. I often encounter Paddy’s name & music through his involvement with local musicians & many community-based projects.

 

This month a solo LP, “Gate Fever” is released. 10 tracks recorded in 6 days it’s a mature collection, sometimes introspective, sometimes retrospective, vignettes & character studies accurately captured. If the songs are a little downbeat well, these are the times we live in & Paddy’s lyrics are studded with warmth, hope & beauty. I feel that I’m listening to an Irish version of John Prine & that’s no bad thing. There’s an interesting video for “We Are The Dead” just up there. If you click here you can listen to “Gate Fever” & buying it is just one more click away.